"Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced" - James Baldwin
Sunday, 4 October 2020
Serco and Catch 22
Serco provides services in defence, justice and immigration, transport,
prisons and catering. In 2006 they started moving into the NHS
‘market’, including clinical services, hospital management and
I say ‘provides services’ that is not strictly correct. Serco provides nothing. At least nothing tangible. It does provide profits
to the company and its shareholders. The actual ‘providing’, of getting
a specific job carried out, is done by others. If they have expertise
in anything, it is as financial managers and middlemen. Serco
sub-contract the real work to others.
2014, Serco withdrew from the NHS clinical
services market after eight years. This followed a series of loss-making contracts and
fines totalling £100 million. They admitted giving false data to the
NHS when running GP services. It was reassuring when the company
announced there had been “a complete change of management and
significant reform of all governance and procedures” It was
2019, Serco was fined £3 million by the Home Office for contract failures
relating to its provision of housing for asylum seekers. In the same
year, the firm signed an agreement to escape prosecution by the
Serious Fraud Office over a notorious prisoner electronic-tagging
scheme run by its subsidiary, Geografix. An investigation found that
Geografix had engaged in fraud and false accounting, inventing half a
million pounds worth of costs which were ‘complete fabrications’.
Serco had to pay the government almost £100 million compensation and
legal costs as a result of its subsidiary’s behaviour.
of this matters because Serco are back, thanks to the government
awarding massive NHS contracts without the checks and balances
normally applied to contract tenders.
they operate 30% of Covid test sites, with the rest run by Sodexo and
G4S, Mitie, Boots and the army. Financial ‘oversight’, courtesy
of Deloitte. To date, these contracts total £500 million.
deals have have been kept secret and are not advertised or open to
public competition. Furthermore, Serco is allowed to “refine” its
own service level agreements, oversee its own monitoring, and are not
subject to penalties for underperformance.
Davis MP, the former Brexit Secretary, has said, “Whilst it’s
entirely understandable that the Department of Health have
accelerated or maybe even short circuited some of the procurement
processes in the circumstances, there is no excuse for secrecy either
over the number and size of the contracts and most particularly over
the level of service the contracts deliver.”
Allyson Pollock, member of Independent SAGE, said it was “beyond
belief” and “extraordinary” that despite “clear evidence of
the extraordinary failures of the privatised test and trace system”,
the government wasn’t “terminating these contracts and
reinvesting it into public health services and labs which have been
shown to be highly effective.”
may have watched Panorama when a NHS health worker reported
sitting at home, week after week, waiting to be alloted Covid clients.
The phone never rang. The track-and-trace programme itself could not be tracked or traced.
you check the internet, you can find that everyone from travel
agents to rodent infestation companies are grabbing track-and-trace
minister, Edward Argar, was formerly head of public affairs at Serco,
while the company’s chief executive, Rupert Soames, is the brother of
former Tory MP and party grandee Nicholas Soames.
fiasco is a result not just of corruption, but of Tory cuts to public
health and their dogmatic obsession with outsourcing. Instead of
throwing money at these private firms, they should have invested in
the NHS and their labs to build an effective track-and-tracing service.
I research the background to the coronavirus ‘business’, I am
reminded of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, but without the humour.
“They buy my tomatoes at four cents apiece and sell them back to me
the next day for five cents apiece. They make a profit of one cent
apiece. I make a profit of three and a half cents apiece.”